Setting Clear Expectations With Your New Team: A Guide For Higher Ed Leaders

Higher Ed Leadership Series

Ascending to positions of authority in higher education, you represent the culmination of years of dedication and expertise in your department. Whether you’ve embraced this role with enthusiasm or are grappling with imposter syndrome, know that you’re not alone in navigating the complexities of leadership. 

Transitioning from the familiar terrain of a lecturer or tenured faculty member to the helm of the department, faculty, or administrative body can be both exhilarating and intimidating. Many of us have felt the weight of expectations and trust upon us, sometimes without a roadmap to guide our journey.

Fear not—in this article, we’ll explore the importance of setting clear expectations with your new team and discuss practical strategies to aid their functioning more effectively. By embracing transparency, collaboration, and inclusivity, you can harness your team’s full potential and pave the way for success in your leadership role. 

Join me as we unlock the transformative power of setting clear expectations and celebrate the unique voices and contributions of women of color in higher education leadership. 

What are team expectations?

Before diving into the how-to’s, let’s first understand what it means to say “team expectations.” These are specific behaviors, outcomes, and performance levels that you, as a leader, expect from your team members. 

Examples of team expectations include:

  • The expectation that team members show up on time to meetings, are respectful, show interest and professional courtesy to colleagues
  • Representing the institution responsibly, conducting themselves professionally even when off-campus
  • Following specific policies and procedures when dealing with conflicts or problems

In the same capacity, here are examples of expectations to be upheld by a leader as well:

  • Regular feedback on performance and coaching when necessary
  • Proper training, support, and leadership; safe and healthy environments
  • Access to resources to perform duties efficiently
  • Credit and acknowledgement for work achievements 

Clear expectations provide a roadmap for success, aligning everyone toward common goals and fostering a culture of accountability and collaboration. 

The Importance of Clear Expectations: 3 Benefits

  1. Improved Team Engagement: When your team knows what is expected of them, they are more engaged and motivated to perform at their best. 
  2. Increased Productivity: Clear expectations eliminate ambiguity and confusion and allow your team to focus their energy on achieving goals rather than deciphering what is required. 
  3. Fewer Unnecessary Conflicts: Misunderstandings and conflicts often arise from unclear expectations. Setting clear guidelines from the start can minimize conflicts and create a harmonious work environment. 

What Happens If You Don’t Set Clear Expectations?

Failure to set clear expectations can lead to a myriad of challenges within your team and institution. Without a clear roadmap, team members may struggle to understand their roles and responsibilities, resulting in confusion, inefficiency, and disengagement. 

Miscommunications and misunderstandings can breed resentment and erode trust, leading to breakdowns in teamwork and collaboration. Additionally, without clear direction, measuring progress and holding individuals accountable for their contributions becomes difficult. 

Ultimately, the lack of clear expectations not only hinders productivity and morale but also jeopardizes the overall success of your team and the achievement of institutional goals.

How To Set Clear Expectations

  1. Set Expectations Early & Often: Don’t wait until issues arise to communicate expectations. Provide clarity, context, and alignment from the get-go, and revisit expectations regularly to ensure everyone remains on the same page. To ensure your team is aligned from the start, ensure the “why” is understood, and don’t be afraid to over-explain. This should be more of a conversation than a presentation—ask your team for their feedback rather than telling or dictating to them your expectations. 
  1. Include Team Members in the Expectation-Setting Process: Collaboration is key. Involve your team members in developing goals and action plans, empowering them to take ownership of their roles and contributions. Once expectations are established, concretely document them for reference. Documenting expectations provides a clear reference point for both you and your team. 

Pro Tip: Develop expectations that follow the SMART goals framework– Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. 

  1. Let Other Team Members Take the Lead Sometimes: Trust in your team’s abilities to step up and lead initiatives. While an important skill in and of itself, leadership is about more than just delegating tasks. It’s about providing opportunities for growth and development and fostering a supportive and inclusive environment where every team member feels valued and empowered.  
  1. Remember to Celebrate as a Team: Acknowledge and celebrate big and small achievements. Recognizing your team’s efforts boosts morale and reinforces a positive team culture. 

How To Communicate Expectations

  1. Ask Team Members for Feedback: Encourage open communication and feedback loops. Regularly check in with your team to ensure expectations are clear and realistic. 
  1. Give Your Team the Space to Ask Questions: Create a safe space for your team to ask questions and seek clarifications. Encourage open dialogue and address concerns promptly to ensure everyone is aligned.
  1. Ensure Expectations are Documented: Documented expectations serve as a reference point for your team. Ensure that expectations, goals, and action plans are readily accessible and transparent. 

Setting clear expectations with your new team is vital to building a cohesive and high-performing unit. As women of color in leadership roles, you have the unique opportunity to share the future of higher education and empower others to reach their full potential. Embrace this journey confidently, knowing that your voice and leadership are invaluable assets to your team and institution. 
Need some additional support in setting the stage for success and inspiring greatness? Let’s chat!

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